‘Well’ I hear you say, ‘who ever said the gut was like a garden?’
Well me of course! This is a phrase I often use with clients who are experiencing abdominal concerns, and that can mean everything from acid reflux to constipation, IBS to abdominal bloating.So let’s take a closer look at your guts and some of its many functions.
Let’s imagine the long tube that runs from your mouth to your anus as the interface between your inner physical form and the outside world. The place where we absorb all that goodness that is in our food and eliminate what is of no use.
Your Digestive System
Digestion actually starts in your Brain, the moment your blood sugar drops this hungry organ sends messages to your gut telling it to get ready for the arrival of nutrients, the whole process is set off.
This amazing muscular sack is your guardian its contents are highly acidic and they need to be to kill off any pathogens, microorganisms that may try and enter your inner world.
The stomach is a muscular sac approximately 25cm long and can expand to hold up to 4L of food and drink, although its empty volume is only approximately 50ml. The total interior surface area of the stomach is about 800cm2.
The stomach also produces enzymes that start the process of digestion of protein, this enzyme is activated in a high acid environment.
High acid = a healthy stomach.
Low Acid = a challenge to digest protein and the possibility that the ‘Bad Guys’ viruses and bacteria can pass the gate Keeper and travel into the delicate intestines where they can produce the havoc of a tummy upset or worse.
The stomach is a muscular bag that needs to be able to move freely to masticate your food.
Nothing in your body exists in isolation, everything is connected to everything else. The stomach usually resides just below the dome of your diaphragm. Every time you take a deep belly breath you are actually massaging your stomach and this means you have a mobile freely moving and happy organ.
If you, however, find yourself in a lot of stress then you may observe that your breathing changes (this is, in fact, the mechanism that prepares your body to run away from a threat to your life) not as is more likely the case, the stress you experience from a challenging day with your kids or a meeting with the boss. This shallow breathing actually puts tension on the stomach and pulls it up tighter to the diaphragm.
So let us think of how we can care for this organ in our daily life.
Breath and I mean gentle abdominal breaths, the only muscle engaged in an abdominal breath is the diaphragm as the dome contracts to create a vacuum so that air rushes into your lungs the abdominal organs below get push slightly outwards.
Chew your food well. We have teeth for a reason so that they can start crushing our food stuffs into smaller pieces and mix them with other enzymes that start the breakdown of carbs. When the food enters the stomach the digestive process (the method by which the body breaks down our food into molecules that can be absorbed into the blood stream) has already started.
Try not to consume cold or frozen foods alongside your main meal.
- Why not I hear a cry I love ice cream for dessert and a cool glass of water with my meal. Let’s think back, the stomach is a muscle and muscles contract when they get cold. If your stomach contracts how it can move freely to continue digesting the gift that has been delivered by your mouth. Ice cream is can be consumed between meals
- If the stomach is all tight how do you think the flow of blood to this area will be affected? How do you think the cells that produce the acid will function and how will that impact on your digestion and absorption later down the line.
- Take a moment to think how that lovely glass of water will impact on the concentration of your stomach acid. A glass of room temperature water sipped to lubricate is fine a pint of ice water may not be too great.
Try sitting at a table when you eat, this is something that many of us used to do but now with our busy lifestyles and members of the family all needing nourishment at different times. Why would sitting at the table aid your digestion?
- Well, it all comes back to that sack needing some space to do its job. If you are bent over a tray on the sofa your posture is not great. Try it and see how it feels.
- Aim to eat the last meal of the day at least 2 hours before bed time. Beware if you do not heed this advice.
- Your supper will most probably hang out in your stomach for around 2 hours before it is passed into the intestines for further breakdown and absorption. So what happens if you go to bed before this time? Well, everything slows down when we go to bed. Our bodies go into rest and restore mode. The digestions slows down and that delicious meal you ate hangs out longer in your stomach, a nice warm wet environment where fermentation may start to occur. This can result in you being very uncomfortable, maybe you experience gas and indigestion. You then wake up in the night and reach for an antacid which lowers your stomach PH and allows any pathogens to multiply further and you are well on the way to further abdominal issues.
- While sitting you have your old friend gravity on your side gently encouraging everything to go south, it’s an entirely different matter when you are prone in bed. Things can easily slosh around and that acid can start to irritate your esophagus, our old friend acid reflux rears its ugly head.
Lastly, before sleep try and do a few rounds of YAM (your abdominal Massage) to further facilitate a restful and restorative night’s sleep.
Next time we meet the Small Intestines in all their glory.